I work with actors at all stages in their careers. And the one thing all of us actors have in common is that we battle with nerves, insecurity and self confidence. We see other actors strutting the stage, or walking out of auditions with beaming smiles, and we wonder how they do it. How do they manage to do what we do with such ease? How can they be such a confident actor?
Here’s the secret: they’re terrified too. Some actors are just better at hiding it.
Unfortunately, there is no point in your career where you are suddenly completely confident in your work. It doesn’t matter if you’ve won Oscars, or you’ve been in countless main stage theatre productions, self confidence is something all actors face.
So is it possible to become a more confident actor? Yes. But it’s important to note that there will always be times when you feel nervous, self-conscious, or straight up terrified.
The first step is to accept that fear is an essential part of being an actor. It will always be present in one form or another. Sometimes it might manifest as a nagging feeling, barely perceptible, and other times the fear might be debilitating. I know many established actors who still become physically sick before performing on stage.
I know I am hammering on about the same point, but it’s important to remember we’re all in this together. It’s not easy what we do as actors. We so often only see the facade other actors put up and don’t see the truth underneath. The truth is that we are all scared, but that’s what makes us actors!
How to build confidence as an actor
First of all I want to look at some simple ways to gain confidence as an actor. Though some fears remain throughout your career, you can do a great deal to abate many of the common fears actors face.
Like with anything, the more you do it the more confident you become. So let’s make that advice practical: make working on your craft a daily practice. Do a voice or physical warm up every morning. Read a poem, a monologue or a scene every day. Feel how different playwrights sound. Get used to different kinds of text and push your boundaries. A practice of nightly reading can also be a constructive habit.
You will feel much more confident walking into an audition at the Royal Shakespeare Company if you’ve been working on Shakespearean text everyday leading up to the audition.
Make working on your craft a daily practice.
Both on and off stage, take more risks. Are you part of an acting class? Be the first to jump up. A friend asks you to work on a scene or project? Do it. Local auditions happening? Send an email and get a slot. You get the idea.
These incremental risks build towards colossal confidence. Each time we push past that barrier of fear we get a little more confidence for next time. So much of acting is about just taking that first step.
Note: I’m always trepidatious heading into an audition, but if I commit to my instincts and push past the fear, I always feel much better walking out.
In a recent acting interview, we spoke with Anthony Brandon Wong, an incredible actor and acting coach about being a more positive and confident actor. His advice was to take note of the success stories in your professional life. Did your agent love your recent self tape? Or did you get a lovely piece of feedback from your acting teacher? Write these down.
Get a notebook, or open up your notes in your iPhone and make a list. Like right now!
It’s all too easy to forget the positive feedback, and just hold onto the negative. By writing it down we acknowledge the positivity and we can build from it.
The same is true for taking note of career milestones. Often once we reach a milestone, such as our first TV gig, we go straight onto the next goal, without acknowledging this achievement first.
Read and watch
One of the areas I get most nervous about is in conversations with directors, casting directors and other actors. They can be formidable and usually they have a lot to say. The more you read and watch, the more you can have an opinion and feel confident offering ideas and making offers in the audition or rehearsal room.
The actors who know their sh#t naturally have confidence. They know if they are asked any question they can answer it. There is a great deal of confidence to be found in knowledge.
How does sitting in silence make you more confident? I’ll tell you. Confidence, or at least the strain of confidence we want, is all about being relaxed and self assured. It’s knowing that no audition, performance, or foyer can actually affect who we are. We want a quiet confidence, not a bullish, chest pumping confidence.
Meditation reminds us that there is a simple truth that underpins everything we do. That no matter how stressful, or how fearful a situation might be, we can always come back to a place of calm.
But guess what? Meditation takes work. Don’t think you will find a new found confidence after 20 minutes of sitting on a rug. It’s a daily routine that takes persistence and focus to benefit from.
How to deal with nerves
The steps above are long term. It can take time to become more well versed in plays, and building up experience can take years. You on the other hand have an audition tomorrow and you’re terrified! Breathe. Let’s have a look at dealing with nerves right now:
It’s the classic rule in psychology. Acceptance. Once we have accepted that we are scared or nervous we can begin to take steps toward solving the problem. Simply acknowledge how you feel. Remember that nerves are a natural part of being an actor and that it’s a physical response that will pass.
An immediate solution is breathing. First of all check it’s happening! And I don’t mean quick snatches of breath or hyperventilating. I mean slow, deep breaths. There are many techniques, but I recommend simply breathing in for 4 counts and out for 4. These simple patterns are a great way to slow down your breath and calm down.
Here is an amazing TED talk by social psychologist, Amy Cuddy. She gives a few simple exercises (power poses) that help you feel more confident. You can watch the full talk below…
Regardless of whether you use these poses or not, posture (or alignment) is a huge aspect of confidence. When you’re aligned and centred, you feel physically more confident. There is a great deal of science into how our physical body affects our mental and emotional bodies.
So whatever that is for you: Feldenkrais, Yoga, Stretching, or Power Poses, do something before your audition or performance to get aligned. The common phrase, “they lack spine”, has an important meaning. When we allow our spines to be free and aligned, we can have courage to face the world. Physical work is vital for finding more confidence as an actor.
Making sure you are eating well and staying active are two things that immediately bring about positive change in your life. And when you are happy in your personal life that transfers into your acting work. Make sure you are taking steps to be a more healthy person. It will inevitably help your confidence.
So there you have it. Some long term solutions, and some quick fix techniques. Remember your fear means you want this. It means you want to do well in your career. You want to be an actor.
But also remember that fear detracts from the important work of acting. You can’t truly affect an audience, if your focus is internal. We have to be brave and give ourselves over to the scene. That is when acting can be moving and profound.